Website networks in Europe used as tools for Russian information warfare — OSINT-investigation InformNapalm & Insight News

The interactive infographic shows websites that have a lot in common: the topics of articles that are critical of the West and Ukraine but loyal to Russia, mutual citations, and referral traffic between them. International intelligence community InformNapalm, in collaboration with journalists from Insight News, conducted a study to identify Russian propaganda and disinformation, as well as the network that disseminates it.

The Putin regime conducts large-scale propaganda not only through its state media but also through “useful idiots,” who focus on demonizing the US, EU, and NATO and have right- or left-wing views. New “multilingual international media” have emerged that write in a way that suits the Kremlin and spread pro-Russian narratives and disinformation, replacing Russia Today and Sputnik, which have received a ban in Europe.

To analyze the data, we received professional consulting from companies that specialize in web analytics and search engine marketing. Researchers using specialized programs (SimilarWeb, Seranking) helped identify websites with pro-Russian narratives linked by similarity of content, mutual citations, and referral traffic. They range from criticizing the West and Ukraine to spreading outright Russian fake news and conspiracy theories.

The screenshots demonstrate how SimilarWeb identifies websites with similar content.


Such sites are most active in Germany and France. The most aggressive and radical of them praise Russia and Putin, justifying Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, calling for an end to support for Ukraine, and spreading Kremlin fakes. They also criticize the West and encourage protest moods in Europe, spreading conspiracy theories and supporting anti-Western and Eurosceptic views.

Almost all of these pro-Russian outlets have a standard set of narratives: positive coverage of Russia, justification of its full-scale invasion and war against Ukraine by Kremlin propaganda and fake news, “Nazis in Ukraine,” “bombing of Donbas,” and “self-defense” against “NATO’s eastward expansion.” Most of them claim that Russia will inevitably win and defeat Ukraine. 

In order to increase Moscow’s chances of success in the war of aggression, Putin’s supporters criticize the provision of weapons to Ukraine, without which the Russian invaders would have captured even more Ukrainian cities and villages. Such websites, on the other hand, regularly criticize the West, the US, the EU, and their own governments, while also positively covering and even encouraging protest moods in Europe.

Such authors blame the West and NATO for all the troubles, often promoting conspiracy theories and disseminating the opinions of “pseudo-experts” about the decline and imminent fall of the United States, the European Union, and the Western world. Such authors must praise former US President Donald Trump, who is striving to reclaim power and making controversial statements that align with the Kremlin’s interests.

As a result, there is a whole network of pro-Russian and anti-Western media outlets in Europe that act as Russian agents of influence and try to influence Europeans’ opinions. Such media often describe themselves as free and independent, and the information they provide is “alternative.”

They criticize the mainstream media in an attempt to justify their right to “other information,” which is often disinformation. This supposed alternative consistently involves vilifying the EU, US, and NATO while promoting the Putin regime as an alternative, which is, in fact, responsible for initiating Europe’s biggest war since World War II and engaging in blatant information warfare against Europe.

For the Putin regime, it makes little difference whether a website or politician is far-right or far-left; the main thing for Russia is to push its narratives and disinformation to Europe. The Kremlin considers the media and politicians from both camps to be “useful idiots.” They help spread disinformation and division in European society, as well as spreading Russian influence for free (some may not).

Among the journalists and authors of these publications, we found people not only with pro-Russian views but also with direct ties to Russia, some of whom have moved there. This deep infiltration into the structure and politics of editorial offices points to the potentially malicious role of some media outlets in promoting the Kremlin’s agenda and undermining trust in European governments and all democratic institutions.

On this screenshot, Seranking was used to detect massive links and quotes between pro-Russian websites

The methodology for identifying such sites included web analytics and keyword analysis to identify similar content and mutual citations, helping to identify networks with anti-Western and pro-Russian publications. In addition, detailed content analysis, including news, analysis, and commentary, helped to identify regular pro-Russian publications as well.

Identification of referral traffic through SimilarWeb confirmed that these sites share a common audience with anti-Western and Eurosceptic sentiments. Users follow links from one site to another.

And when all three factors come together—websites have similar content, rank for the same search terms (which hint at a pro-Russian narrative), and link and quote each other—there is no doubt that they share common goals. 

SimilarWeb detects referral traffic between sites from the identified network.

Flourish Studio tools visualized the investigation results, providing an insightful representation of the collected data. Each website’s size depends on its monthly traffic, and lines depict the connections (links, citations, and referral traffic) between sites, with arrows indicating the cited site.

The thicker the line, the more citations and links there are. This visualization demonstrates that pro-Russian and anti-Western news websites form a network, as well as how the Russian propaganda machine uses European media, including “useful idiots,” to spread its narratives, disinformation, and instigate divisions inside a united Europe.

Why is it important to know about the connections between pro-Russian and anti-Western websites?

To understand how online media can operate in an organized and purposeful manner in the information field to support Russia’s efforts in its full-scale war against Ukraine and its campaign of disinformation targeting Europe, aiming to sway public opinion, weaken governmental authority, and spread despair and chaos. Moscow’s goal would be to bring radical forces, with whom it has warm relations, to power. This issue has become especially relevant a few months before the European Parliament elections.

Such sites exert a much greater influence than the network of pro-Russian sites featuring the Russian word “pravda” in their domain names or the network of fake pages and Kremlin bots on social media that were recently uncovered. After all, these networks either had a short period of existence, reached only a small audience, or were not credible in themselves. Many people already view Russian state media as compromised and untrustworthy propaganda outlets. Instead, websites that have been publishing for many years, with a specific audience and a format that resembles other Western media, are able to convince more readers of their narratives.

Experts and EU states should monitor the activities of such sites, and readers should question such content because efforts that favor Russia in the information field in times of geopolitical confrontation play into the hands of the Putin regime and are harmful to Europe. After all, Russia has demonstrated that it is waging not only a war on the battlefield to destroy Ukraine, but also an information war to break up the United Europe.

Read more publications:

Distribution and reprint with reference to the source is welcome! (Creative Commons – Attribution 4.0 International – CC BY 4.0) InformNapalm social media pages: Facebook / Тwitter / Telegram Slate (Sl8).

InformNapalm does not receive any financial support from any country’s government or large donors. Only community volunteers and our readers help us to maintain the site. You can become one of the community volunteers. Please support the development of InformNapalm, the unique volunteer intelligence resource, with donations through Buymeacoffee or Patreon.

No Responses to “Website networks in Europe used as tools for Russian information warfare — OSINT-investigation InformNapalm & Insight News”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *